Saturday, December 29, 2001

Hey guys. Can you guess where I am now? Israel? Nope.

I’m in Scotland. In Dingwall. Back home.

Yes, that’s right. I’m home. A fairly last minute change of plan and instead of going to work on a kibbutz for a few months, I reckoned on going home for Christmas instead. Yeah, sure, not the decision of a hardcore traveller I know but hey, what can I say? I’m a lightweight obviously.

Ok, you might want some details. Here you go then.

So ok, the decision was fairly last minute but I won’t pretend one foot was in the bus to the kibbutz and I suddenly thought "Heck" and jumped on an aeroplane instead. No, the first inkling I had of not kibbutzing it was last week, the day before the desert trek. I just woke up one morning and thought about a few things. Still, I hadn’t decided then, but I had time to think during the trek (when not singing a variety of foreign language songs) and I talked about it with a few of the trekking group. And by the time I’d finished I’d decided that home it was to be.

So the morning after the trek I went to a travel agents and got the first cheap ticket home, which happened to be late Sunday 23rd December. I was home by 4pm on Christmas Eve.

So why did I decide to go home? I’ll tell you the truth. Something I should have told you all a long time ago.

I have multiple sclerosis and I don’t know how much longer I have left. I’ve decided to spend my final moments home where I grew up, beneath the torrent of tears of my beloved friends and family.

No, of course not you bunch of retards. No, there were a number of reasons. The simple fact is that I’d only ever planned to go away for about three and a half months. I was away about four and a half. And this had consequences.

I have a house back in Aberdeen, which ever since I left in August has been rented out. I tried to sort out as much as I could in advance but inevtibably had to leave a good deal for my brother and mother to sort out. Which they appear to have done very well. But it’s unfair to ask them to continue sorting stuff out indefinitely. Especially as I delayed a number of bills till December/January before I left. I want to deal with all the paperwork myself.

Aside from house finances, my personal finances are a bit messy. I haven’t yet seen the exact state of my credit card’s health, but I’m expecting to be doing some serious weeping quite soon. According to my brother the bank are wanting to see me on a "non-urgent" matter. Somehow, a "non-urgent" matter seems more ominous than an urgent one. I think some financial recouperation is in order.

But for all this, I don’t deny I could still have worked on a kibbutz and have sorted all this out from a distance. I could have got mail sent to me and I’d be able to deal with
my Scottish finances in Israel. A bit of a hassle but hardly insurmountable.

No, I’m home because now, quite simply, is the best time to return. Talking with a few of the group I was hiking with - Bala especially - I realised that going home now, for Christmas, was far better timing than going home in about March. Christmas is definitely a good time of year for me to head home. Plenty of free food and drink. All the relatives are converged. I can just wind down for the remaining week of the year, not having to worry about real life for a little longer.

And you see, Israel can wait. By not going now doesn’t exclude the possibility of ever working on a kibbutz. Or travelling again. In fact, in the few days I’ve been home I’ve realised the prospect of travelling again has become an absolute certainty. And this maybe is the clincher as to why I decided to come home now. I was prepared - financially and psychologically - only for three and a half months of travel. But this time I can gear myself up for a greater period of time. I’m home now and so have a few months to sort out my finances and life in Aberdeen. And gear everything up. Gear everything up for being away for a greater time than four months. This first adventure has merely been a taster.

So I’m home now because, paradoxically, I want to travel more. 2002 is not going to be spent entirely in Scotland. Give me three, maybe six, maybe nine, months - and I’ll be away again, and ready for it. To where I don’t know, though I do intend to be seeing Croatia and Israel again. I might do Africa. Not India though, definitely not India. Too many damn hippies.

I’m going to do a big final sum-up entry in the next week or two so I’ll save all other details for then. For now I’ll just cover the final days of my travelling.

Saturday and Sunday the 22nd and 23rd December were my final two days abroad, although it wasn’t until afternoon on Christmas Eve that I actually entered that fine land of Scotland. These days weren’t spent doing anything terribly exciting or interesting aside from walk about Tel Aviv or hang about in the hostel talking to someone, or listening to David the crazy Australian Jew’s CD player - which was a total Godsend. On Saturday afternoon I did meet up with Bala though, to see "Lord of the Rings" at the cinema. Her grandmother had died just a few days before so she wasn’t exactly buzzing with joy, but she seemed in fairly good form. I think she was glad to get out of the house with someone and to somewhere completely removed from the sad family events. We were joined by a friend of hers, a guy with some impossible name that I think began with "S", but was really too complex for any native English speaker.

Myself and S---- enjoyed Lord of the Rings, but unlike us Bala wasn’t familiar with the book and found it rather long. I think she’s more of a Harry Potter person. And apparently Saruman looked very like some Arab singer which got an amused murmur from the audience. At the end there was a small but significant round of applause. I’ll definitely see the film again.

Anyway, this is a travel diary and not a film review section so I’ll shut up. After the film we went round to S-----‘s house. His father was from South Africa but had studied in Scotland for a few years and English was his first language, so I got the opportunity to talk about Scotland to a fellow English speaker. I think he was glad of the chance to be able to speak English to someone and he gave me a variety of stories. The house also hosted a pair of very enthusiastic dogs.

We stayed there a while until myself and Bala left. It was time for our sad farewell too, as it was her grandmother’s funeral the next day so obviously she wouldn’t be able to see me before I left on my flight home. So with a final goodbye hug we departed.

There was news about David the crazy Australian Jew when I got back. Apparently his "wife-to-be", that he’d only ever met once and we all presumed was trying desperately to shrug him off, had phoned him and invited him round for a meal with her parents. This was shock news, coming just days after his previous excitement of nearly fighting some manager of a bar because he’d been working in the kitchen of the restaurant and the manager had refused to give him a whisky. This had apparently led to much shouting and breaking of glasses until the manager had conceded the whisky. David was pessimistic about the chances of his job remaining.

Anyway, I saw him the next day and his meeting the parents evening had gone very well indeed. His girl’s mother was a doctor and had given him medicine for his (ahem) bronchitis. David was now dead set on proposing to the girl by the end of December. As I left him and the hostel for the airport, he was in the process of wondering whether to go to the zoo with his girl, or to go to Egypt to make himself seem exciting to her. My advice was valued, albeit ignored. I did quite like the guy strangely enough and I was utterly fascinated how such an obvious mess of an individual to everyone that met him actually appeared to be succeeding in life.

I had flights from Tel Aviv to London and from London to Inverness, the time from start to finish altogether being almost 24 hours. I was at Tel Aviv airport in plenty of time and so sat about for a while waiting, giving Bala a phonecall with the remainder of my phonecard credits. I also bought some deoderant as I was stinking. Although the duty-free deoderant is a load of bollocks. It’s just this really expensive poncy stuff for gays. Eventually I found a packet of two roll-on deoderants for $6 which I was forced to buy, but roll-on isn’t exactly the same as proper spray stuff. I mean, you can’t make a flamethrower with roll-on deoderant. Anyway, the flight was ineventful, with not a single passenger trying to a light a fuse on his exploding shoe and I landed in Gatwick airport about midnight, UK time.

My flight to Inverness was 14 hours later, but from Luton airport. Here I rediscovered the joy of British prices. A taxi quoted me 110 pounds to take me there. When my mouth dropped he added helpfully, "We take Mastercard." To be fair, the airport was an hour and a half away, but the price was still more than either of my flights. I got a train, eventually, costing almost 17 pounds - which is still a comfortable day’s existence anywhere else.

But the cost - who cares? All around me was the sound of English being spoken, with lovely British accents. All around were signs written in English. I paid for things with British money actually worth something. The train conductor was a lovely old man with a flat cap and a crinkled train timetable in his shirt pocket. I got a rare glimpse of seeing Britain through the eyes of a foreigner. And it was lovely.

I can’t say the wait for my flight was as lovely, with time passing slower as the flight grew nearer and my anticipation increased. But it came and soon - and with great joy - we were in the airport of Inverness, my place of birth (as my passport will confirm). Scottish accents all around. I got a lift from Justin’s mother (Justin, you will recall, joined me and Simon in Cairo for a short while) back home.

I should say now that I hadn’t told anyone about my arrival home. Those reading now who weren’t aware of my plans certainly aren’t in the minority. I deliberately left everyone in the dark. Only those in Israel and a couple of friends in Aberdeen knew as I’d contacted them with regards to transport from Inverness back home to Dingwall. So my family were completely unaware that I would be home for Christmas.

And so I think they were all a little surprised when I strode jauntily down the driveway. I actually reduced my usually cold, harsh and perhaps even evil, mother and sister to tears. They even hugged me. Better still was the reaction from my aunt when we all went round to her house. She fainted. Yes, she actually fainted when I walked in the room. I admit this is the first time I have ever made someone faint just by being in their presence. Though, of course, many women swoon when Big Nev is about. She also told me something really rather excellent. I’m apparently the reason for the existence of her kids, my cousins. She didn’t want to have children but then I was born and I’d been such a delightful and beautiful baby that she was inspired and voila - two grotesque children were born to her that could never begin to even hope to compete with me. Bad luck Malcolm and Esme but hey, I think I probably deserve a few pints. After all, you do owe me your existence.

So I’m home. It’s not travel so I won’t go into detail, but it has involved the eating of a great quantity of chocolate, and the consumption of a variety of alcohols. Often together (which we all know should never happen with chocolate and beer) which has made me feel somewhat ill. I drank until I passed out last night, at a friend’s house. It snowed not long after I got home, and currently there’s a ton of snow outside, which has disrupted a heap of roads but does look rather pretty. My clothes were all washed too. The washing machine water was turned brown as the clothes got their first wash in many weeks. And joy of joys - my music. I’ve listened to my music for the first time in four months and what a delight it is. For me anyway. The rest of the family aren’t yet convinced.

That’s it then. I’m home. Tomorrow I go to Aberdeen and plans beyond that are vague. This isn’t my final entry - there should be one final one in a week or so. Be patient. But then that’ll be it. Until…

Friday, December 21, 2001

You meet some strange people in hostels. Israeli hostels especially, it seems.

All I've been doing for the last few days, and will do for the next couple, is just hanging around. I find Tel Aviv a pleasant enough place to hang around, although like Aberdeen I feel it's a better place to live than to visit, as there isn't much in the way of tourist attractions. So much of my time is spent just lazing around, with the inadvertant consequences that I've been getting to know those fellow hostel residents around me.

A Jewish-Australian called David is the one I suppose I've got to know best, although the effort has been all on his part. Four months ago he broke up with his girlfriend of 10 years, and oh boy, don't I know it. I've heard the story oh... 76,000 times? After ten years of being perfect (except for that one time he cheated on her of course...), being a big achiever with a full life, they broke up because she started seeing another man. And David crumbled. Even though he knew they were going nowhere and he refused to marry her because she had low self-esteem and wouldn't get a job, he had a total nervous breakdown but decided that instead of killing the guy she was seeing, he'd take a break from work and go to Israel to "find himself". This has involved the use of several prostitutes, but by happy chance he's fallen madly in love with this Israeli girl called Nilli. That he's met once. Yup, once only, and a few phonecalls that from what I gather have been him asking her out and she making excuses as to why she can't go. Undeterred however, David is already planning his marriage to this girl, convinced that she'll change her mind. They're "just perfect" together, you see. Somehow though, he's managed to land himself an accountancy job in a Jewish firm in London, starting at 30,000 pounds a year. He got the job today so has been very happy and has said repeatedly how glad he his that he broke up with his old girlfriend. His life is now perfect. He's going to make enough money in 10 years to be able to retire in Israel, married to Nilli, and send his kids to a private school. Nilli fits perfectly into all of this. If he can just make her see...

I may have become David's best friend by virture of a technique I got from H, back in Aberdeen a couple of years ago. As David talks and talks and talks, I just nod my head understandingly and say "Hmm, yes", "Quite right" and "Tell me more..."

I've also told David I'm a reporter for Lonely Planet and not only has he believed this, but I think he may have spread the word round the rest of the hostel.

Also in my dormitory is a very peculiar little Iranian guy who unbelievably has lived in the hostel for five years. Saving money to return to Los Angeles apparently. Though five years may seem a long time to save this one airfare, it makes sense when you realise that all he actually does in Tel Aviv is potter about the hostel making coffee for himself. He speaks in staccato and also believes I'm a Lonely Planet reporter.

There's Vlad the Ukranian guy. He's quite cool. He had a serious car crash three years ago that affected him in the horrific way that he's unable to drink alcohol as it gives him dangerously painful headaches. But he seems normal and he's obviously an intelligent guy and it's people like him that make me realise how lucky I am because I'm from a country with money and that lets me go just about anywhere in the world. The British passport is a powerful tool. He actually offered to buy mine. If I'd had a spare one I'd have given it to him.

There's an English guy Warren who seems alright but seems to get frustrated with little things, and there's a pile of other people - mainly South African - whose names I don't know, including the (mainly South African) staff, who all seem alright too. It's a friendly enough atmosphere and an ok place to relax.

Apart from swanning around the hostel, I was out a few nights ago with Bala and a friend of hers called "Gal". These Israeli's have crazy names. I got a pint of Kilkenny for the bargain happy hour price of 18 shekels (3 pounds). Oh Lord.

I haven't seen Bala in the last few days due, very unfortunately, to a death in the family but we're still in contact and have agreed to see Lord of the Rings tomorrow. Maybe something on Sunday too, depending, as Sunday will be my last day in Tel Aviv as I really should get on with things.

That's the situation then and this may be the last entry for a week or so, as I don't know where exactly I'll be then and how readily available internet access will be.

Merry Christmas for Tuesday by the way.

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

I'm clean right now, and I've actually changed my clothes (all of them). Yesterday I wasn't. Yesterday I was comprehensively filthy.

For me to say I'm comprehensively filthy is quite something. One thing you may not have entirely derived from this diary is just quite how unclean I am. Those who know me well know that I'm not exactly the most hygienic of people, but at least back in Aberdeen I washed every couple of days and changed my clothes... sometimes anyway. But my standards have been slipping steadily in the last four months of travel. During Croatia I wore the same pair of socks for an entire month. Believe it or not, they didn't smell, but due in large part to a very big blister on my heel they did become exceedingly crusty. Several times I have gone a week without washing. I have about 4 T-shirts with me - I've only ever worn 4 and they're not exactly on rapid rotation (before today I'd worn this one T-shirt for over a month). Don't ask about my pants. My policy has been if it doesn't smell and isn't visibly dirty from 10 metres away, then it's fine.

I haven't even begun to mention the state of my toenails. Needless to say, they have not been cut since I left Aberdeen in August.

Anyhow, all this is to stress that when I admit to being filthy, it means I really really mean it. However, this time my filthiness does have a justification as I was fresh back from a four-day trek in the Israeli desert. Sand, dust and no water. Spraying some deoderant twice during the expedition was the closest I got to washing, and as the can has been virtually empty for weeks, I doubt it did a lot of good.

But regardless of this, the desert trek turned out to be something rather special. In four months of highlights, this was one of the greatest.

After my last entry, I phoned Arnon again and a pick-up time and place was arranged. I was to phone a friend of his, a girl called "Inbal" but generally called Bala, and I did this and she picked me up (plus all my stuff) at 4pm outside the hostel. There were a couple of hours to wait until Arnon and the rest would arrive in Tel Aviv from Haifa so she took me to her house and we talked for a couple of hours. She was a lovely girl with some curious notions. She'd finished her military service (female soldier with a gun... oh yeah...) but had decided she couldn't be bothered with university as she couldn't be bothered with the commitment and level of concentration. So instead she was working her way around a number of jobs that weren't exactly mainstream. Such as being a shepherd, and painting pylons. Currently she's "between jobs" but she had some ambitions as to her ideal jobs. Either just talking on TV, or naming things, such as new streets, chemicals, or whatever.

She was going on the trek too, but was arriving later on in the day/night/morning from myself, Arnon and the rest. The rest? Yeah, this is what I haven't told you. The rest was a busload of children (about three busloads in fact). Well, I say children, they were all between 16 and 18, but Arnon always referred to them as his children. The trekking was part of some national organisation that met up every couple of weeks to go away for a day or so, hiking somewhere in the country. But because it was Hanouka (an eight day holiday involving lighting candles), it was a big four day trek (longer for some, who had started earlier). So yeah, I was trekking with a pile of schoolkids...

It turned out to be a lot of fun.

We arrived at the starting point after midnight, and everyone got ready to try and catch a few hours sleep, as it was a long day the next day, beginning at 5am. I was wholly unprepared, obviously not anticipating a four day trek in the Israeli desert when I set off from Aberdeen four months ago, so my entire range of hiking equipment was a sleeping bag. And not a terribly warm one at that, as I woke in the middle of the extremely cold Israeli desert night (it is winter after all) freezing my damn bollocks off, which is something I'd have worried about more had my damn bollocks not taken a heavy pounding while riding that ancient bicycle in Luxor, Egypt. Even with the gay Norweigan fisherman jumper I was cold. I was almost glad when 5am came, and our group was ready to go.

The set-up of the event was that one guide led groups of about 15 "children" for the day, and at night everyone would rendezvous at a set camping destination so the mess would be concentrated to one area, as the organisation was quite environmental and litter in the desert lingers a lot longer than it does in Scotland, where it gets battered to submission. Arnon was guide to this one particular group, and so I was just tagging along, plus Bala for a few of the days. Rinat (Arnon's girlfriend) only trekked a little with us, but was very much involved in transporting all the stuff (ie food and everyone's bacpacks as we only carried smaller packs during the day) to each camping destination. Oh, also present was Arnon's large dog called Sheba, who looked like "Falco" from The Neverending Story according to Bala. As the last time I saw The Neverending Story was when I was about 9, I didn't argue.

The first day was the longest and was sort of my breaking in day. Although everyone in the group spoke very good English, they obviously talked Hebrew among each other and so a deal of the time I was lost in a sea of Hebrew, with it's unrepeatable sounds for the common English speaker. Sort of like the ch in "loch" but much harder. A bit like "Hhhgggg" but without sounding the ending of the "guh". That make sense? I did begin my attempts to learn the names of everyone, which proved a most difficult task as Israeli names appear to be mostly unrelated to any name I've heard of, so I was effectively trying to memories a series of random words dotted with bizarre sounds. But by the end of the four days I managed it so here, for the record, is the names of everyone there.

The guys: Yotam, another Yotam, Oded, Guy (a mericfully easy name), Haguy (pronounced Hhhgggaguy), Nir and arriving at the end of day 1, the wonderfully named Weissman.
The girls: Efrat, Lee, Irys (she'd actually visited Scotland before, but couldn't remember where), Hila, Mirav (or however the hell it's spelt) and arriving at the end of day 1, Michal, Abigail and Maya.

I'm very impressed with this feat of memory and feel I deserve a reward. Credit card donations welcome.

At the end of day 1's trekking, the group all gathered round a campfire and spoke in rapid-fire Hebrew. On the most part. A curious thing was the amount of English that slipped into normal conversation. Not just random words like "tuna" but entire sentences and phrases and song lyrics. Such as "Aggghhh ggghhh gghhh ch gghhh Would you like to take this outside? chhhcg ghgcg hcghgchg". There was a lot of singing too - despite not necessarily possessing the most harmonious of voices, the group were enthusiastic singers, mixing traditional Jewish songs with stuff like Queen and the Beatles. Later on in the trek, they even entertained themselves with a little Geri Halliwell upon hearing of my admiration for her very very obvious songwriting talent.

Here's a song I was taught that night.

Ner-li, ner-li, ner-li, dakik
Ba Hanouka, ner-i adlik
Ba Hanouka, ner-i ya-il
Ba Hanouka, sher-i ashil

It translates something like:

My candle, my candle, my candle, my little candle
On Hanouka, we light the candle
On Hanouka, we do something to the candle
On Hanouka, something or other also happens that is probably candle related.

It's meant to be a gentle song but I kept emphasising the last word of each line strongly, so would say "dakik" very forcefully, thus turning this gentle Hanouka poem into something resembling a war-cry, and this new interpretation of the song ended up proving very popular with the group.

So, with my education of Jewish Hanouka songs, I had to share with them the most important song in the world, the Scottish national anthem - Flower of Scotland. I did toy with Leonard Cohen's Famous Blue Raincoat, but reckoned it was too downbeat. Besides, even though I haven't listened to the song in months, the tune and lyrics still often find their way into my head quite frequently. Here, for your education too, is Flower of Scotland.

Oh Flower of Scotland
When will we see
Your likes again
That fought and died for
That wee bit hill and glen
And stood against them - AGAINST WHO
Proud Edward's army
And sent them homewards
Tae think again

Obviously a great song, but it took even me by surprise how much the kids all took to it. It effectively became the song of the trek, sung many times a day and while trekking rarely an hour seemed to pass without me hearing some distant voice sing at least one line of the song.

Day 2 was an early start, but 7am as opposed to 5am, so felt like a lie-in. Or would have had my damn bollocks not frozen off again. How much punishment can one pair of bollocks take? After the first day I think the presence of a strange Scottish foreigner had been accepted by the group and I began to get along with them really well. Efrat even taught me yet another new song, this one Indonesian (allegedly), about a hunter catching a frog.

Thong thong thong(yes, seriously, and no, Sisqo was not involved in the writing)
Pa-ku tongi tonga li-mon go... zhaim-bamboe
Ah-li akala...
(this next bit said really fast)akalamakakala!

To which I could only respond by teaching her a good Christian Easter hymn - "There Is A Green Hill Far Away". But in Zulu. It goes:

Kuli akawamba ukatali
Pa kaya kakulu
Pano Jesu waffwizilay
Pa kukula wantu

I was taught this in school when I was 10, and although I've managed to rid my mind of every little biochemical fact I learned over the last few years of university, I still recall this Zulu version of an Easter hymn. Apologies to all my Zulu readers, by the way, as I'm sure I've warped their language horrifically.

I also thought it worthwhile to teach Efrat an old Ross County song. About an ex-player called Gary Wood, who used to play up front for County. He was alright, but as the song might suggest, he had a penchant for dying his hair. Here's the lyrically and musically complex song that was sung on the terraces.

Gary Wood, Gary Wood, Gary Gary Wood
He dyes his hair but we don't care
Gary Gary Wood

To think that John Lennon's "Imagine" can go to no.1, yet the Gary Wood song can't/

So day 2 was fun, and possibly the most visually impressive day. All the days were impressive - the mountainous desert landscape was stunning, bare, craggy and bold. But most memorable was climbing up a fairly high hill, and suddenly reaching the top. It occurred very suddenly and in an instant I was presented with this awesome panoramic view over the entire surroundings, which included the town of Eilat, the neighbouring Jordanian city of Aqaba and the impressive chain of mountains running behind it, the mountains and desert of Sinai in Egypt, and the finger of blue amid the dusty yellow surroundings that was the gulf of (I forget the name) that leads to the Red Sea. A few times a panoramic view would suddenly appear, but this was the most impressive. I did take photos, though I wouldn't hold out too much hope for them doing any justice to the view.

The evening of day 2 was spent round a campfire with Arnon, Rinat, Bala (who hadn't trekked with us that day) and a friend of theirs, Anat. Plus the occasional extra who would appear. They made a ton of rice so I'd no choice but to stuff my filthy damn face so full that I was unable to eat the surprisingly superior food made by the children. I showed the "adults" my Bulgarian magazine appearance and Rinat was able to translate a little as she originally heralds from the Ukraine and Ukranian has similarities with Bulgarian. According to her translation, the magazine claims we'd visited France. France?! What an outrageous lie. I'd never voluntarily visit France, although I was there once on a family holiday I admit, but that was hardly my fault.

Day 3. Uh... these days are blurring into one here. But Day 3 was the last full day of trekking. I think it just carried on as usual really, lots of great scenery and talking to the group. Weissman seemed to know a good amount about English football so filled me in on recent events, and I was asked various questions about Scottishness. Being Scottish has huge advantages I've discovered, as it confers all the bonuses of being British but with the novelty value of being Scottish. Israelis don't traditionalll drink much so they had this view of the Scottish being total drunkards, a view I certainly didn't discourage. In fact, when you consider that this four day trek is the first time in four months I've not drunk alcohol for more than one consecutive day, I'd have found it hard to argue otherwise. But some of the group looked as though they'd have drinking potential in them - Yotam for one looked like he'd have been at home in a Scottish pub.

It was Yotam's 18th birthday the next day too, the last day. I believe they did go out for some drinks too, but as they were in Haifi and I in Tel Aviv, I was regrettably unable to join them. But anyway, Haguy got me to write the national anthem on a large sheet of paper for him, to which I also added the Scottish and Israeli flags because I'd a blue pen and that's all you need to draw the flags on white paper.

And so early the next morning, on the final day, I was roused upon hearing the Hebrew version of Happy Birthday to Yotam, and woke up fully when I realised that there was cake going about. He'd got a number of presents I think, but the most bizarre (aside from the Scottish national anthem) was a condom in the form of a Christmas tree. They were all Jewish remember. Maybe he'll save it for when he gets lucky with a Christian girl.

The final day was shorter, finishing at before 4pm, when we all piled onto a bus destined for Haifa, via Tel Aviv. Here, homemade paper magazines of the organisation and the route and stuff were distributed, and traditionally each kid writes a little on the magazine of their fellow group members, so I had the difficult task of trying to write something different and original to each member of the group. I just stuck to drinking tips mostly. I got my magazine near the end of the drive back, and actually found myself quite touched by what they'd all written. Man, is this what travelling has done to me. Made me all soppy? More like it was just the result of four days without alcohol. But the magazine is a really great souvenir of the occasion, and I hope to keep in touch with a few of the kids. I should stop calling them kids really - it's Arnon's fault. He always called them that.

So, that's that. Myself and Bala got off at Tel Aviv on Monday evening and right now I'm just spending a few days relaxing at the youth hostel on my small financial resources, before making my next move. I'll describe the last couple of days in a later entry, maybe Friday, because I've written plenty already.

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

This entry is dedicated to the memory of "Amoury", a Frenchard who likely lost everything during a vigorous stripsearch at the Egypt-Israel border.

Here I am then, finally getting off my ass and moving from Cairo. And into Tel Aviv. I was beginning to get scarily settled in Cairo, building up a little routine that went something like "get up, buy two little pizzas from the bakery round the corner, achieve a minor goal for the day, buy the cheap but filling koshary from the koshary place round the corner, sit about talking, go to sleep". It was a cheap existence, but ultimately one which was going nowhere, and so the incentive of meeting with Arnon and Rinat and hiking forced me to break the cycle I'd entered into.

And so I've moved from Cairo to Tel Aviv and it occurred to me as I did this that it was the first time I've travelled alone. Almost four months with Simon there, and even the last week with Simon gone I was effectively travelling with the Spaniard Susannah, but this time I was by myself. It's a strange feeling really. Part exciting, part scary but for the most part just different.

Even so, I still wasn't really alone, not until actually getting to the Tel Aviv hostel. The Liverpool guy, Andrew, who'd I'd been sharing a room with in the Cairo hotel was leaving Cairo likewise, getting a 10pm train to Aswan (as opposed to my 10pm bus to Taba on the Egypt-Israel border). So we got a taxi together which I'm hoping wasn't an error on his part because although I was delivered to the bus station with several minutes to spare, the near-stationary traffic situation meant that it would have been very tight for him arriving at the train station on time.

Ok, so I got there, got my ticket and found out where my bus was supposed to be waiting (Egypt doesn't believe in bus stop markings - you just have to ask around and figure out which kerb to stand at). Near where I stood was a fellow white guy, dressed a lot smarter than me, hopping from foot to foot edgily. He saw me and we got talking.

He turned out to be a curious one, certainly, and our conversation spilled over into the bus. He was a Frenchard, a journalist who'd been spending the last five or so years of his life in Arab countries. Including Iraq, and he had two visas in his passport to prove it. Iraq was in a bad way, you won't be surprised to hear. He'd been living in the "asshole of Baghdad" as he succinctly phrased it. His name was something ludicrously French like Amoury, according to his passport anyway.

It didn't take me too long to realise that Amoury was a little eccentric, as many Frenchards are, lively and talkative and somewhat bizarre. I think he'd been staying in Arab countries too long and it had begun to affect him. He was a journalist and was fluent in Arabic, and had spent a lot of time in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, among other countries. He kept talking about the Arab mentality, a sort of careless live for today attitude without too much regard for building for the future (something you definitely get the impression of from visiting Egypt) and appeared to have both admiration and disdain for them. It didn't stop there. It emerged that he'd spent a considerable amount of time with various terrorist organisations, the Hezbollah and Hamas especially. He said he had some important phonenumbers and said with a laugh that when the World Trade Centre had gone down, some Palestinian terrorrist leader had initially been implicated and that he'd met him not too long before. It didn't sound like an idle boast.

Crikey, what's happening outside? A policecar is stopped just outside the door, lights flashing, bringing the traffic outside to a halt. Some police guy keeps saying something through a loudspeaker but as it's all in Hebrew I don't know what he's saying. I'll let you know if any bombs go off. I wouldn't worry too much, this is the second time today I've seen such a thing.

It was Amoury's first trip to Israel however, and he was feeling somewhat nervous. He was Muslim, spoke Arabic and had spent a considerable amount of time in Arab countries. He wasn't sure how Israel would take to this. Plus, perhaps naively, with him he had an extensive collection of Arabic literature, the exact content I can only speculate upon.

We spoke for ages... well he spoke for ages. Initially it was a two way conversation but as time went on I was getting really tired and so he just kept going on and on. As time went on he seemed to grow more oddball. Though I doubt it was the case, it was like I was the first Westerner he'd spoken to in years. Strangely too, he seemed rather in awe of me travelling around Eastern Europe and the Middle East with just one bag. Oh yeah, he appeared to have some issues with his mother too. I think she babied him.

I eventually got some patchy sleep but any hope of more than 20 continuous minutes rest was shattered by Amoury's realisation that he'd mislaid his glasses. He'd had some rest too and had put his glasses somewhere as he'd done so. And managed to utterly and comprehensively lose them. So he tore apart the back of the bus maniacally, occasionally giving a loud shriek of madman laughter. Searching desperately and frantically for his glasses for what seemed to be approaching an hour, but without luck. Sometimes he would sit very close to me, so that I could smell his slightly rancid breath, and look at me with a craziness shimmering in his eyes, and exclaim "I can't believe I've lost my glasses!"

Sometimes, travelling with Simon didn't seem so bad.

It got worse. We still had several hours before reaching Taba. Several hours for Amoury to search for his glasses like a madman? No, because the bus stopped, a pile of people got on and we were told we had to change buses if we wanted to go to Taba. If Amoury's glasses were lost somewhere on that bus, then there they would remain. There was nothing we could do.

Sleep on the second bus was a precious joy, as Egyptian TV was played in full force, only just drowning out Amoury's maniacal mutterings.

Eventually, as daylight cautiously crept in, we arrived at Taba. Myself, Amoury plus two Korean birds ("Susie" and something too foreign for me to remember, like Li-Jung) all made our way through the border. The Egyptian side was no problem, and the border people were friendly and pleasant. It's such a novelty to deal with an Egyptian who isn't trying to sell you something, or get baksheesh. It was entry into Israel that caused a bit of hassle. Oh yes.

They were quite thorough, but myself and the Korean girls got through, although we were only allowed a two week visa. Because of current troubles or because of our association with the Frenchard? Because Amoury was having some serious trouble with the border people.

We'd waited for him as they checked his bags, but it was clear that what they were finding (ie extensive Arabic literature of a likely dubious nature) was not to the pleasing of the Israeli border people - a fair number of which were strikingly attractive females, though I didn't notice any big guns. We were asked if we were travelling with him. We just told the truth and said we'd met him on the bus. We were asked to move along. The last I saw of Amoury was him being led into a room and a curtain being pulled closed. I didn't even hear his screams.

Outside we waited about an hour, without any sign of him. We were forced to go outside the whole border area, and I asked a guard if they knew how long he would be. "A while" was what I was told. "Several hours?" I asked. The guard didn't appear to know.

So we were faced with a dilemma. Should we do the moral thing and wait for the glasses-less Amoury, however long he might take, presuming he even got through? Or should we do the cold hard practical thing and get a taxi to Eilat so we could get a bus to Tel Aviv that would arrive at a sensible time? Thus leaving poor blind Amoury at the mercy of the Israeli security?

Yeah, of course you know what we did. The practical, immoral option. Deserting Amoury, thinking of ourselves. We're going to hell, sure. Our only defence is that we really were on a tight schedule and we couldn't afford to wait for hours for a crazy Frenchard we'd met on the bus who'd brought in a ton of extremist Islam literature into Israel. We might have waited many more hours without result. I have no idea what his chances of getting into the country were.

So Tel Aviv now. The Korean girls, who were friendly and funny, proved very useful as they'd just spent three months on a kibbutz and knew of a few good ones I might like. So that's something to check out. But after my trek in the Israeli wilderness. I phoned Arnon today and I'll be picked up at about 6pm tomorrow for a four day trek. That costs nothing, except food and water I expect. I've just got enough cash to survive a few days and pay for the kibbutz administration.

When will I write next? I might be able to slip in a quick entry before I head to my kibbutz and then... I don't know. I don't know how much internet access I'll have. Meaning entries could become scarce now, for the next few months in fact. But we'll see.

Monday, December 10, 2001

Yeah, still in Cairo. You know, I could write about stuff as I have time, and this internet place is cheap, but I just can't be bothered. My plans are... hmm... I'm not sure. There's no direct bus from Cairo to Tel Aviv any more because they've closed the border but there's other ways. I might go hiking with Arnon and Rinat, the Israelis I met in Zagreb.

And stuff. I'm just relaxing right now, doing very little.

Saturday, December 08, 2001

I'm still alive, and back in Cairo. I managed to get what must have been the very final money from my credit card account (20 UK pounds). This, plus a short loan from Susannah (which went mostly on drink), got me a day trip to Abu Simbel and an overnight back to the capital. Food, mercifully, costs pennies.

Alas, my backup money has not come through. The tent deal is off, not just because the Egyptian guy seems to have disappeared, but because Justin ended up taking the tent back to Aberdeen with him. Not his fault at all - in fact he was doing me a favour - because from an email I received from him, he only realised a bid had been made for it upon return to Aberdeen. And my Israeli shekels are proving notoriously difficult to change here in Cairo. Anyone would think they didn't like the Israelis or something...

Not to mind though. Of slightly more concern is this email I received from Owen. He's on the kibbutz (along with the crazy South African girl Shevonne) that I was intending on going to. Here's what he wrote.

it's an awkward situation - from next monday there will only be 6 volunteers left, three of those are from Ecuador and have only a partial grasp of English. It's boring: you work and then you sit around watching television or reading. It gives me time to think but there is no way I could honestly recommend it to you. If you come then that is great but all I can say is be warned. Shevonne is still here and has bouts of clarity surrounded by epochs of dross. I get along ok with her, mainly because there are few others to talk to. The kibbutzniks are often hard to break down - they've seen volunteers come and go.

that's the story. I only have 40mins internet access per week! so I need to go and write to others,

take care,


I still have a few days before I head to Tel Aviv. I'm still going to kibbutz it, but where I go is now something I'll be giving serious thought to. I'd like to meet up with Owen and Shevonne again, but under these circumstances? Plus, the place is only 10km from the Gaza Strip, which isn't currently a world haven of safety.

Anyhow, my days in Aswan were fun, despite the minor financial crisis. Not a great deal of newsworthiness of the first, just looking around. Stuff I'd write about if I'd more time. In the evening I went for a meal with Susannah, on a large boat on the Nile attached to the shore, and then witnessed Susannah's expert haggling in the streets. This girl is one serious haggler, I'm quite sure she could win competitions. She plays the salespeople at their own game and can happily haggle over prices for half an hour and still walk away all because of a difference of 1 UK pound. Ruthless. She makes all these wonderful promises to visit the salesmen the next day which she of course never honours. It also helps that she pretends to be Mexican while I pretend to be a monosyllabic Yugoslavian (I'd tried Croatian but none of them had heard of it).

It was a day trip to Abu Simbel the next day, commencing at 3am. A minibus crammed utterly full of other peope who'd put their names down went in convoy with heaps of other buses. The 4 hour road journey from Aswan to Abu Simbel is supposed to be dangerous, problems with these Islamic fundamentalists again, and has only been reopened to foreigners in the last year or so, but as far as I know, no buses were taken out by rocket launchers.

Abu Simbel is a big temple dominated by four giant statues of the main man, Ramses II. It's famous. It's big. It was rather impressive. We also bumped into Craig there, a droll Australian we'd met in Luxor but had lost touch with. After the cramped four hour return to Aswan, seeing a few other sights on the way (including the least impressive toursit attraction ever, the unfinished obelisk, which is just a big and unfinished carving in an ugly quarry) we all went for some drinks. Myself, Susannah, Craig, plus others from the short day tour including the first Scottish traveller I've met. Called Dave, from somewhere near Ediburgh, though we wasn't planning on returning anytime soon. I would have got epically drunk as it was one of these groups of people that seem to click, but I had an 8pm overnight train back to Cairo with Susannah so only got slightly drunk instead.

So, just relaxing today. I'm now sharing a room with a guy called Andrew from "the Wirral" who intends to travel for the next three years and never wants to go back to England. Susannah returns to Spain later tonight. I'm going to hang around Cairo for a few days then eventually head to Tel Aviv. Funds allowing. If I camn change my shekels, then I'm in business -I have 150 UKP worth.

So, a big discussion awaits. Which kibbutz. Gvaram, with its envelope making but very limited excitement, but with a couple opf people I already know, or a random one? We'll see.

Thursday, December 06, 2001

And so I find myself in Aswan, not far from the Sudanese border, with a credit card that has just run dry. I have 90 Egyptian pounds (15 UK pounds) to live on and get back to Cairo. All is not lost however.

No time to write, but basically me and Justin went to Luxor, saying goodbye to Simon but hello to a Spanish girl called Susannah who suspiciously had an American accent. We saw all the Luxor stuff, hiring an old uncomfortable bicycle with a saddle that has ensured - in combo with the bumpy roads - that I will never have children. Luxor stuff was cool, and we're all now big fans of Ramses II (a total megalomaniac) and Thutmoses III, a short fat man of petulance.

Justin returned to Cairo for his flight but I've continued on to Aswan with Susannah, and we return to Cairo for Saturday morning. My finanical situation may be saved as I have about 100 pounds (UK) worth of shekels in the hotel, plus I got an email from Simon saying that an Egyptian guy is wanting to buy my tent for 300 Egyptian pounds. This is only marginally less than what I paid for it almost three years ago, new.

That's the deal. I have to go now. Going on the internet now is a totally unnecesarry drain on my very limited funds.

By the way - I have a huge backlog of emails to get through. Intrnet recently has been slow and expensive. Hopefully I can catch up when in Tel Aviv (Monday?)

Sunday, December 02, 2001

Man, I can't be bothered writing. Basically, the last couple of days have been interesting enough. Justin's arrived and has taken to the place a lot better than Susanne, who has an expression terror etched on her permanently. Except for today's smiles because she's going home later. We saw the pyramids which I though were excellent - I mean they are the most famous landmark of all time. Simon seemed less impressed. I think he wanted more bombast, American style. Revolving pyramids perhaps?

A strange day also. I leave to Luxor with Justin fairly soon, but Simon isn't coming as he hasn't the time. Meaning that after over three months of sleeping in the same room as the stinking fool, finally we're going separate ways. Him to Scotland, me to Israel. It's going to be a little odd.

But totally great obviously. No more morning voice!

That's all I can be bothered writing for now.

Thursday, November 29, 2001

And our final moments approach. We're now in Cairo, obviously the final stage in our 3 and a half month Frankfurt to Cairo journey. In just six days is my flight back to Edinburgh.

I won't be taking it of course, choosing to spend a couple of months working in Israel, but after over three months stuck next to Simon, I'll finally be rid of him. Rid of him and his exagerrated nose blowing, rid of him and these AWFUL jokes which he has begun telling with horrific frequency in the last month. He went through Hungary and Turkey without a single pun, but recently it's gone way out of hand. Not helped by the fact that Allie actually appears to find them funny. Encouragement is not what Simon needs. A kick in the head is.

Anyway, yeah, Cairo. A city of 16 million apparently, and one big crumbing mess. It's not as deteriorated as Albania, but it's well on its way. It's a vast sprawling traffic anarchy, crammed full of people, pollution, smoke, dust, crumbling buildings and anything else just about, except alcohol seemingly. Ok, not entirely devoid of drink, but you've got to look damn hard. Yesterday we couldn't find any. You can just imagine my despair.

We're joined too now by Susanne, flying in to join us yesterday. Tempted as we were to leave her stranded at the airport, miles from the city centre, we did greet her and she's currently trying to come to terms with the most manic and intense city I've yet encountered.

More on that later. We arrived in Cairo early Wednesday morning, about 6am. After perhaps the worst goddam bus journey I've ever endured. It was about 8 hours and after spending the previous night on Mount Sinai, you might imagine we were all a little tired. So though we never anticipate a terrific night's sleep on a bus, we didn't anticipate the bus company deliberately and inexplicably sabotaging our chance at proper sleep. I mean, it's this simple. An overnight bus journey - you expect the passengers to want a little sleep. So you dim the lights, you pull the curtains over the windows, you make fairly comfortable seats. All the ingredients for a passable journey. What don't you do? You don't put the TV on and play absolute bollocks Arabic TV comedy at a mind-splitting volume so loud you are rendered useless to even think. Especially on a bus with just 10 people, 8 of them non-Arabic speaking tourists. At least 6 of our 8 hours were spent enduring this evil barrage of loud and banal foreign TV and though I did fall unconscious through exhausation several times, it didn't particularly rest me.

To be fair, the two Egyptians on the bus seemed to be watching the TV with great enjoyment.

So nobody was in a particularly great form upon arriving in early morning Cairo, which was surprisinlgy quiet. We negotiated a taxi and got to a hotel/hostel called Dahab Hotel. It's alright, comfortable with adequate facilities and at least 63 staff to every paying customer. We got some sleep, and about noon me and Simon took on the fury that is daytime Cairo.

It's winter here and I can only imagine how this city would be like in summer, with the scorching 40 degree heat. The traffic is Albania-style - ie continual needless beeping of horns and survival of the fittest car laws. Traffic lights exist, but often more as decorations. Crossing the road alive really does seem like the will of Allah.

This city proves chaos theory basically.

We just wandered aimlessly, unsuccessfully looking for food, because it's Ramadan right now of course, and so we eventually had to settle at eating an ok snack at the hotel. It was...ok. All food in Egypt seems to range from between "ok" and "poison your cat with this."

We didn't do a whole lot else with the day because at 7pm we had to meet Susanne at the airport, and so this required leaving at least two hours early to get there. Finding where the bus departed was task enough. It involved asking many people, guessing which information was correct, and hoping that the random bus you were on would take you there. But we managed it and got to the airport almost an hour before Susanne's flight arrived. We hung around (I ate a gigantic bag of plastic sweets until I felt ill) and finally she appeared, smiling in great relief, looking a little scared, saying show she'd have "freaked" it we hadn't showed up.

She's only grown more scared since.

Cairo is an intimidating city and although fascinating, it's exhausting and for the uninitiated could be a little terrifying. After enduring almost two hours in the bus back to the centre of town, packed with a pile of loud traffic at a virtual standstill, not much helped by the fact that at one point with the bus stuck in non-moving traffic, the bus driver jumped out the bus, ran to a shop to get a kebab and only then did the traffic begin moving again with a lot of angry cars behind us waiting for the driver to find his way back into his bus trapped in the middle of the road.

Then upon getting off the bus, we were hounded by a very persistant and almost aggressive guy trying to trick us into getting Susanne to go to his hotel, and who followed us all the way to our hotel until giving up.

This is a big hassle of Cairo. I'm sure most Cairiens are friendly and pleasant. Unfortunately, a lot of the ones you meet are after something. They see the white Westerner in the street and they chase after you, asking where you're from, asking where you're going and pointing you in various directions. Being "helpful". But it's not help, it's usually trying to force you into their shop. It happened in Istanbul but never seemed so insistant. I think it's worst in our area because there's a number of hotels, and it can make going out a hassle. It's just wearing sometimes, having to be polite (because I hate to be openly rude) while walking on and trying to get rid of your new friend. And it does mean that some of the genuinely friendly Egyptians who are just wanting to help get brushed off because you simply can't talk to and believe everyone who approaches you. Fortunately, as a general rule, anyone who rushes to speak to you can just be ignored.

I got told to "go to hell" by one guy today, despite being polite but firm, but that might have been because Allie said "just ignore him".

So, last night, we just tried and failed to by alcohol, and just all spoke in the hotel restaurant area until about 1am. Catching up with stuff in Aberdeen with Susanne and all that.

Today, minus John (because he's been there twice before), we all visited the Egyptian museum until we were all pharoahed out. Tutankhamun was quite cool, and the room full of mummified corpses was pretty spooky, and the array of ancient relics was astounding. And remarkably preserved. Suspiciously preserved in fact. I'm not entirely convinced the whole pyramid thing wasn't just a scam thought up 100 years ago. I think it's a pretty good build up to the pyramids of Saturday.

Yup, that's the plan then. Tonight, a few drinks because tomorrow Allie and John are moving on to tour round the rest of Egypt, and we're going to pick Justin up at the airport at pm, if we can be bothered. I think that's it for now.

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

How's the weather there in Aberdeen? A little grey? Excellent. Here, in Dahab in Sinai, Egypt, we're being treated to a pure blue sky and glorious sunshine. With the additional bonus that you can sit back with a beer and taunt the dry nation of Saudi Arabia, which is clearly visible across the sea.

So yes, out of Israel and into Egypt, into the pleasant but entirely artificial backpacker resort that is Dahab. We got here on Sunday. After fleeing Jerusalem, getting a bus to Tel Aviv and then to Eilat on the southern most tip of Israel. We arrived there only a little before 1am but while this would usually be considered craziness, because Sandwich-Girl Allie and Birthday-Sharer John met us the bus station and took us to the rather crappy but cheap hostel (the ones we'd selected prior had all been closed or obnoxious it seems). We were rather tired, having been up since 3am, with only two hours sleep after a fairly heavy night drinking. Plus it had been quite a big day, so a good night's sleep would have been pleasant but unfortunately the retards that shared the dorm with us insisted on all waking at 6.30am and talking very very loudly in Hebrew. I made a concerted effort not to be friendly when I finally rose from bed at 8am.

Our stay in Eilat was for business however, not pleasure, purely as a stopover to get our Egyptian visa and this we did. We went to the Egyptian consulate there, filled in forms, paid some money, and a few hours later got our visa. I was rather jammy here actually. You were supposed to bring one passport photo with you and I'm sure I had some in reserve but I couldn't find them. So thank God for my egotistic vanity. In Montenegro I got all my photos developed and... my Lord, if a load of my photos weren't just close up pictures of me. However did that happen? And so very enterprisingly (and very lucky that the guy accepted it) I took one of the photos and cut out my face and voila - a visa.

We didn't piss around then, and the four of us took a local bus to the Israeli-Egyptian border at Taba and after paying yet more money and enduring the prolonged efforts of the Egyptian security people to find guns on us (they became convinced for a while that John was carrying a single bullet) we found ourselves in Sinai, Egypt. Along with a German guy and a Swissard girl, we took a taxi to Dahab, our bags rather scarily strapped to the roof.

Ivo had recommended the Bishbishi camp in Dahab to us, so that's where we found ourselves, greeted by the very friendly and helpful Mohammed who looked spookily like Will Smith, as he himself told us. For just over a pound each per night, we got a pleasant little hut for two. My bed even had a lizard on it to begin with, though after it scurried off I never saw it again. But the facilities were clean and good, and even hot water in the showers.

Simon was feeling rough (the pansy) so pussied off to bed as the night got on, but myself, John and Allie found a bar made to look like a big ship and introduced ourselves to the delight of Egyptian "Stella". Stella by name, but not by nature. It's the biggest beer in Egypt, but don't imagine that's any indication of quality. In fact, quality was dictated entirely by random as each batch differs, according to John who's been to Egypt twice before. If you don't like your Stella in one bar, go elsewhere and you get an entirely different drink.

Our Stella tasted alright though and we ploughed our way through a now regrettable amount. Suddenly it was 3am and we reckoned we should be heading back.

It was my birthday the next day and let's not pretend I woke up bright and happy. Egyptian Stella can do things to a man that you don't want beer to do, so I lay in bed with wave upon wave of nausea spashing at me, until I finally found the strength to get up. Although I felt alright by this point, I discovered soon after that my body was rebelling against Stella and as vengeance for the punishing quantities I'd inflicted upon it, it was immediately converting all food intake into a liquid mess in the toilet.

Still, not to matter. I enjoyed a milkshake with Simon, Allie and fellow birthday boy John, plus endured a pasta that appeared to be 40% sand. Then translated this into the toilet, and just lazed around the whole day. Doesn't sound terribly exciting but it's been the first birthday of my life I've ever had in warm weather. Lazing around outside on my birthday has always been an alien concept previously.

Later on Mohammed very kindly cooked us all a meal of chicken and rice which we ate at precisely 4.50pm, just as the sun set and the daytime fast for Ramadan ended and all Muslims prompty cram their faces with food. It was a good meal, spoilt only by the fact that it too resulted in a messy translation.

I felt fine after though, and we all decided on our plan of action. Likewise, John and Allie hadn't been at peak fitness since the Stellas of the night past, so we ended up only having the single birthday drink. Yes, I apologise, I only had one beer on my birthday. I am officially disgraced. But we'd booked ourselves into an overnight climb up the fairly nearby Mount Sinai, scene of where Moses did a load of biblical stuff. The bus left at 11pm, got to Mt Sinai at 1am, and left back for Dahab at 10am. The 9 hours between were to climb the mountain, sleep a couple of hours, then return back down.

It was all rather cool actually. The minibus was full and upon arriving and trying to figure out where Mt Sinai actually was, we began climbing. Taking the right path this time - while climbing Masada in Israel, myself and Simon managed to go totally off course and found ourselves climbing a gravelly and sheer moutain face in total darkness. But we avoided such errors this time (helped by the fact that this time we weren't both hungover and still drunk). The climb was amazing. A bit tiring, as the mountain is about 2500m, but the moon lit everything up and the view of the stars was remarkble. The mountain was a groovy mountain too - barren, rocky, sandy, craggy. Get some postcards of it and see for yourself - I can't be bothered thinking of adjectives.

It was also pretty damn cold and when finally getting to the top, we all just climbed in our sleeping bags and found some space to rest for a couple of hours.

Hmm, time is running short here. Basically, we saw sunrise, came back down (meeting a heavily bearded Russian Orthodox priest on the way, clad in black gown and giant gold crucifix) and are now back in Dahab. At 10pm we leave for Cairo, another overnighter (we've done way too many of these recently) along with John and Allie. Tomorrow we're meeting Susanne at 7pm at the airport, followed by Justin on Friday.

We might also check out the pyramids too. If we can be bothered.

Saturday, November 24, 2001

I don't believe it. I'd written half my entry and this damn computer pisses up and it's all been deleted. I don't have the effort to write it again, or the time. I am really pissed off by this.

Basically, we're still in Jerusalem but about to leave. We're going to Eilat via Tel Aviv (no direct buses because it's the Shabbat, the Jewish holy day) but only to pick up a visa for Egypt. Then to Dahab in Sinai in Egypt where we'll re-meet with Allie and John, who we met on Thursday night when having a drink with Ivo. Allie has some strange obsession with a plastic sandwich lunchbox, so much so she has tattoos of it, and John's birthday is on the same day as mine. So a big piss-up on Monday then. Hopefully Ivo will be joining us. He has a worrying habit of walking about in his underwear, but it otherwise fine.

Since I last wrote, we saw the Western Wall at sundown on Friday - the beginning of Shabbat. It was incredible. Loads of Jews packed into this space, singing and dancing and having a great time. I was expecting something solemn, but it was nothing of the sort. We got fairly drunk again that night, and went on a 12 hour tour which started at 3am. A very rough morning then. We climbed Masada, a big mountain plateau and watched sunrise, then went to the Dead Sea but I'd forgotten my trunks in the hazy hungover morning, and then went to a quite groovy nature reserve.

In a few hours we set off to Tel Aviv.

I'm sorry. I'd written much more in much more detail but this computer's wiped it all and I'm pissed off. I was counting the number of times Simon blew his nose loudly while I wrote. So far he's on 7 times. All Simon does these days is blow his nose loudly, random at any time. It's become background noise.

I'm going to try and publish this entry now and it had better not mess up again.

Thursday, November 22, 2001

It's our last night in Jerusalem now. I was sort of hoping for it anyway, because I'm getting a bit restless and want to move on, plus the weather's turned cold, but Simon was wanting a couple more days. He's changed his mind now though. I think Jerusalem's getting to him.

Jerusalem, and I cannot stress this enough, attracts some very, very, very odd people.

For all the history, and churches, and mosques, and soldiers, and big walls, and immense religious significance, it is definitely the people in Jerusalem that I'll remember most vividly in years to come. I cannot imagine there being anywhere else on Earth with such a high proportion of insane people. The terrifying thing is that we've only been here three nights so far and I know we've only just scraped the surface of the pure mentalism that exists here.

Last night at the hostel was just ludicrous. As an experience it was unforgettable and I don't regret it, but we have as a result moved to a new hostel, because there's some experiences that aren't worth prolonging. It was like being some in stupid film with over the top, charicatured, stereotyped lunatics. Except these people were sitting right next to us.

I did mention most of them in yesterday's entry, but oh boy, there was some character development since. The killer turned out to be the nicest of the lot. He seemed quite intelligent too, just very nervy and twitchy. You could honestly see him snapping. He seemed to get on quite well with this Russian guy who was sharing a bed in our dormitory. The Russian guy was totally spacey and spoke like he was drunk, but was also quite friendly. Seeing the Russian guy and the killer interact was a most curious experience as the conversation stammered by and leapt from topic to topic. Amusingly, they confided in us that they thought the slugman (who almost grunted at me one more time before getting an early bed) was a bit crazy. We laughed, and in a rare moment of revelation the killer said "Everyone here is crazy!"

It turned out to be the Israeli/Canadian/Swede that was the craziest of the lot. He was called Johnny, or so he said. To be honest, I doubt quite a lot of what he said. Such as him being a marine. He spoke loudly in this blues-singer type drawl. He said he'd been in the Israeli desert, serving in the military, for the last 14 years and had hated every moment of it. "Land of milk and honey?" he scorned loudly, "More like the land of shit and piss!" and he repeated this remark at least five times. He had a "friend" called Andrew, another guy who must have been in his 50s and seemed quite Jewish, who he had loud conversations with. Johnny also warned us that the Russian guy was crazy and liked to take shower at 5am and would speak to himself loudly in Russian.

But the reparte was best between Johnny and the crazy woman allegedly in charge of the day to day running of the hostel, Susan. A nasal American, at least in her forties, with miserable curly hair and baggy trousers in shreds. Her face seemed permanently contorted in an expression somewhere between utter bewilderment and utter contempt. She was a floaty, spaced-out creature, and Johnny delighted in yelling abuse at her. The abuse appeared to pass her by and it was only when Johnny called her his wife that she meandered down the stairs and looked at us and screeched wretchedly "I'm not his wife. He's not a marine. He's a homosexual," and disappeared again.

We had a couple of beers and took an early night, deciding then that maybe we'd just move on the next morning. We'd already shifted from the dormitory to a marginally more expensive private room because it had begun to piss it down with rain and the dormitory roof was leaking water onto our beds, and the electricty sockets next to them really didn't look too trustworthy.

I was woken up in the middle of the night with some sort of commotion downstairs. As we discovered, our room functioned as an ear to the entire hostel. Johnny was cursing loudly about some doorhandle to a toilet door being missing, telling Andrew (I presume, it's very possible he was speaking to himself) that Susan was an intelligent woman and had probably hidden it to get revenge. This went on for ages, and it was later in the morning, when Susan was up, that a small story began to emerge.

All this I gather from Johnny's continued abuse towards Susan, and a phonecall between Susan and the hostel owner. Something about another guest that night, in a private room, who'd paid for two nights but had left that morning and wanted his money back for the second night. She seemed insistant that it was because Johnny had been getting into fights (something he'd told us) and had been breaking glass all over the hostel that night. She kept calling him an "assassinator" and screamed furiously down the phone that she hasn't been telling guests that he was a killer, it had been him boasting about it. She kept saying the word "assassinator" over and over. It's already become one of my favourite words.

So that was two killers, at least, we were staying with. I'd love to have stayed longer but... well, time to move on. We're now at our third and final hostel in the city, and it seems quite good. There's even someone normal in our room, a Dutchard called Ivo. He's pleasant, relaxed, not obviously nuts and apparently not an assassinator.

Still, we're leaving tomorrow to Eilat. Prompted mainly by some mysterious experience Simon had today with a small gay Jew from London, also called Simon. We were doing our own thing today, and when we met back up again, Simon was looking visibly shaken and very quickly agreed that he wanted to leave Jerusalem tomorrow. He met this small gay Jew from London, also called Simon, in the post office and apparently Simon the Jew (as we'll call him) was very intense and tried to psychoanalyse him and was very personal and touched his leg, and as Simon escaped, Simon the Jew asked him if he was 100% heterosexual or just 90%. That's all I've gathered so far, Simon has been very vague on the whole affair so I'm going to check out his account to see if he gives any more detail. But he did seem decidedly shaken by it all.

That's Jerusalem then. A city full of mentalists. Tomorrow - Eilat.

Oh yeah, and it's our 100th day travelling today. Our 100 shots of beers in a 100 minuters has been postponed, but a good few drinks looks pretty certain. And also, in just 4 days time (26th Nov) it's my 23rd birthday, so I'm expecting a simply gargantuan amount of emails wishing me a wonderful birthday and unconfined joy for the future. Ok?

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

It seems Simon's web blocker isn't blocking anything. I've discovered that bestiality has made my blocker kick in.
Jebi se
Sex shop
Simon's web-blocker is allowing him to view my page, whereas my one is much more severe. I'm going to try out a few words and see when his one kicks in. Bear with me.
This is bizarre. I'm at an internet place which is cheap by Israeli standards (12 shekels, ie 2 pounds, an hour) because it's something to do with some Christian charity, but perhaps as a consequence of this, it has a "web blocker", a device that prevents me from entering a website if it has adult/obscene comment. Apart from the obviously distressing fact that I'm being deprived of my duck and owl bestiality sites, I'm not even allowed to enter my own website. Seriously. When I try, this is the message I get:

A Word On Your Blocking List From The Category(s):

Adult Content

I'm allowed to enter Simon's page though. Hurray.

This slight strangeness is just typical of the madness that Jerusalem attracts. It's the centre of three major religions (four by the time my mark has been made) and it's no coincidence that it attracts a fairly eccentric crowd. Especially in the off-season and in this current climate of uncertainity where casual tourists are way way down.

Our first two nights were spent in the Petra Hostel. A fair enough place, but a bit soulless and with an utterly vacant receptionist. It was just a bit bland really, although with a rooftop that gave a good view of the old city, and a nice balcony outside our dorm room (which was inhabited only by us). And it sold beer. Hmm, it's sounding quite good now in retrospect. We've changed to the Citadel Hostel now and already I'm wondering if it was a mistake. It looked so promising when we took a look round yesterday. It's a cool little building, narrow but high, with white stone stairways winding up the building. It feels like it's been carved out of rock. With a nice little rooftop with a good view as well. Our impression was greatly helped by the guy who showed us around - called Mayad or something. He hasn't been present today, replaced instead by this crazy woman with an American (I think) accent that sounds like it's painful for her to force words out. She seems permanently distracted and appears to know nothing at all - "You should ask Tourist Information" is her favourite phrase. We've also had the pleasure of meeting the other guests. I say guests - they all appear to be permanent residents who live in the hostel. There's three others and I think we're sharing the dorm with them. One guy is this older, fat Israeli guy who looks like he wants to sink into the ground. He said "Shalom" to me, and I said "How are you doing?" and he just grunted and looked like he wanted to sink into the ground. He's going to be a slug in his next life, and I think he'll enjoy it. Another guy seems alright, if a tad odd. Again, older, balding with white hair that might be pulled into a ponytail. He just watches TV.

We're getting on with the third and final guy best. He's of Israeli descent but I think spent a long time in Germany. Oh, and he's a killer.

Yeah, we're sharing a room with a killer. It's not that fact that disturbs me the most, it's the fact he told us within five minutes of meeting us. It was self-defence against a neo-Nazi attack, which maybe took place in prison (me and Simon took different interpretations of what he said. What is sure is that he spent a year in prison for something). He seems pleasant but is obviously not quite there. He's twitchy and nervy and I hope he doesn't own any firearms. But he is friendly. He's a Messianic (?) Jew apparently, which is a Jew that believes in Jesus, which I thought defeated the point of being Jewish, but I didn't press him on it.

So we've got two nights with these madheads, and then we'll move onto our third and final hostel before leaving to Eilat at the far south of the country.

Ok, that's our living conditions then. I suppose I should stuff about what we've been doing. It's just the usual tourst stuff mainly, or the places we're allowed into. We've wandered all about all four quarters (Jewish, Muslim, Christian and, for some reason, Armenian) of the old city, we've walked along the part of the ramparts that we were allowed, the other being closed for security reasons, we checked out David's Tower and the museum which was quite interesting, we checked out the Western Wall which has a load of UltraJews standing in front of it, shaking. And we took a tour under the city, along heaps of tunnels, with a distinctly Jewish biased to the tour.

Yeah, this is something that's occurred to me. The Jews and Muslims don't seem to get on very well, as you may have noticed, but from my own casual tourist viewpoint, they really seem very similar. They both believe in the same God and both basically subscribe to the Old Testament (with the Muslims branching off after Mohammed put in an appearance in 600AD), they both have a propensity for beards beyond the normal call of duty, they both quite like hats too, the more religious sects like to cover up women's hair (with the Muslims often going all-out and covering up the entire woman) and there's other stuff too. I suppose it's like just about any group of people in the world - "hate your neighbour" seems a universal philosophy. Nobody seems to like their neighbour. Israel and uh... anyone near it, Croatia and Serbia, Kosovo and Serbia, Pakistan and India, Newcastle and Sunderland, America and Canada (if they only knew how similar they were...) and even myself and the girls who used to live next door. They were awful.

The only hatred of a neighbour that is justified is the magnificent Ross County and the disgrace that is Caley Thistle.

Um, what else then? Today I took a wander into the new city, which was quite good. A few bustling markets just ripe for Palestinian bombing. I've been wondering what a suicide bomber sounds like. Is it a mix between your traditional explosion and the sound of a human body pulping itself into many many chunks? A sort of squidgy blast?

I also phoned Daniel, the Israeli we met in Sofia, and I'm going to phone him again later to arrange to meet up with him. So we'll see what happens there. And tomorrow is our 100th day travelling, which is obvious cause for celebration. We plan to drink 100 shots of beer in 100 minutes. This cannot fail to be a good night.

That's all.

Monday, November 19, 2001

And yeah. I've decided about the kibbutz thing. I'm 100% doing it, for about two or three months, so I'll see everyone about March. Probably.
One very obvious thing about Israel that both I and the supposedly devoted to his girlfriend Simon have noticed is the very very attractive girls. If the Jews have contributed one thing to Earth, other than my own personal amusement at mimicry by going "Oi oi oi", it's a substantial number of really very good-looking girls. Enhancing their looks is the fact that a large of number of them are serving in the military and so march about in a quite fetching uniform. But the clincher, the single thing that might just lift them aboe Croatian girls in the looks stage, is the gun. Oh yeah. Before Israel I'd never appreciated the appeal of girls and guns, but it works. Especially when the gun is longer than your arm.

I phoned home for just the second time since I've been away, and mentioned all this to my sister, and she called me a pervert.

Regardless, the appeal of Israeli girls with guns inspired me to write a poem the other day. I'm not usually one for poetry, but I have every confidence this poem will win me many prizes. It's called "Female Soldier With A Gun".

Female soldier with a gun
Jesus Christ you turn me on
With your semi-automatic
You little Jewish princess

Female soldier with a gun
Defending Jerusalem
Raise your arms - you're patriotic!
As the Palestinian flinches

This last verse is currently optional.

Female solider with a gun
Please come to Aberdeen
I will feed you gin and tonic
And let you feel my inches

I think I'll send it to the head of Israeli security and see if it can be made the song for the Forces. A rallying call for the Israeli army.

Ok, aside from marvellous poetry (incidentally, proving conclusively that my journey has been one of culture and discovery, and not just me getting drunk cheaply), I suppose a fair few things have happened since my last entry. From Tel-Aviv we went to Haifa, then to a town called Akko, and now we find ourselves in the capital city of religion - Jerusalem.

Also, the capital city of curly sideburns. I tell you, these Jews sure know how to grow sideburns. I call them UltraJews, the ones with these cascade curls of sideburns and big black hats, and long dark jackets. Like slightly odd hitmen. They usually have beards too. Mullets have been very thin on the ground here, but in a way I feel the long curly sideburns are almost a Jewish equivalent. They have a definite charm.

One day I hope to see an UltraJew with a mullet. I honestly cannot forsee my heart coping with such a sight.

Right then. Our final night in Tel-Aviv was spent purchasing a pint for 3 pounds 50, running away from that place and into a supermarket, and buying two bottles of cheap wine. We had no choice but to drink both of them that night, although the second did take some effort. Simon maintains it was nice, but it was like strong Vimto.

We cleared off to Haifa the next morning, feeling a little rough but I've felt worse. Simon felt worse actually, which made me feel better. We've both had colds over the last few days. Mine started in Marmaris and is effectively gone now, but Simon's is a few days behind and so I'm getting the joys of his thrice daily nose-blowing harmonies converted into a 24 hour daily symphony of nose blowing. Is it just one hankie he uses?

After our first hostel being closed due to the imminent arrival of 50 kids, we found ourselves in a new and pleasant hostel called The Port Inn. Clean, good facilities, satellite TV, friendly staff. Let down only by the vague smell of sewage that mysteriously persisted in our room, and the fruitloopity of the guests we were sharing with. There were 6 I was aware of. One was just a guy I saw briefly and he seemed alright. Another was just a podgy man with a thick goattee. One guy was either asleep at a random time in the day, or simply not about at all. On his bed was a Russian computer programming book. The most infuriating guy was an Israeli guy who spoke a few sentence to us and otherwise insisted on playing three awful songs loudly in the main communal room. On repeat. Just these three songs. I don't know what they were but one sounded like Freddie Mercury with OMD backing him - but much much worse. It was a dreadful song. He slept quite a lot too. Then there were two girls/women we were forced to have breakfast with. One was a monosyllabic German girl working on a kibbutz, and the other was some ghastly Canadian women called Alex who was far far far far too spiritual and soul-searching for her or anyone's good. Oh man, she was fascinated with herself, and seemed to be involved in some very self-involved artistic projects. She had some story about seeing a koala teddy bear and then later on meeting an Australian, and equated this with destiny. She talked a lot, and finally she needed some "personal space".

Haifi turned out to be a most charming town. Same size as Aberdeen but more obvioiusly attractive. Aberdeen isn't the mostly classically of beautiful cities, though it does have a grey appeal. But Haifa was stretched up a steep hill which gave a great view of the curving coastline, and its buildings seemed bright and happy. It had some Temple of Bah'ia'i'a''i'a'a'''' too, with 18 gardens, all lined up vertically up the steep hill, and perfectly symmetrical, that was very attractive.

We phoned Zahi that evening and he called by the hostel and took us out. First was a failed attempt to get into a club in some kibbutz far out of town. On the way we were stopped by police and searched for drugs. And it was a pretty thorough search too. I mean, as if I look like a hard-drugs user. The club turned out to be a bit of a no-go. After queueing continental style, we made it to the front just as people were stopped being admitted, unless they were attractive and female. However, as the music being blasted was "Sex Bomb" by the Welshman Tom Jones, I don't think I missed too much. We ended up at a pub near the hostel, which was really quite good, except the prices. Israel is even more expensive than Britain for alcohol. We stayed there till about half 3, after Zahi got kissed on the cheek by a guy who'd lost a game of darts and not long after, a girl on the lips who'd also lost. There were two more girls in the same group, so Zahi really should have held out for more.

Second day in Haifa was mostly just wandering about the city really, and later for a couple of drinks with Zahi, but it was a fairly early night for both. An early rise the next day and onto the town of Akko, a town older than Jerusalem. We stayed in a hostel which was a converted mansion, but as we were the only people we had the run of it. And now we're in Jerusalem. I'm getting tired of writing as you may have guessed. Jerusalem's alright so far. It's one of these places I was brought up knowing about as a kind of myth so maybe it needs more time to sink in.

Thursday, November 15, 2001

Hi there. A small piece of advice for you. When the security at Tel Aviv airport ask what your business is in Israel, and you mean to say "tourism", don't stutter and accidently say "terrorism". It is for this reason that myself and Simon currently find ourselves in a Tel Aviv prison.

No, of course not, but it's good advice nonetheless.

So indeed we find ourselves in the country that is the suicide bomber capital of the world. Already I've witnessed over twelve Palestinians blast themselves to chunks. And though I've so far escaped injury, I'm considering claiming compensation for the mess they've made of my T-shirt by exploding their innards all over me. Besides the condensed mass of suicidal Palestinians however, both myself and Simon are fine. Surrounded by Jews sure, but completely fine.

Hmm, the drink is pretty expensive over here however, so I could be finer.

You last heard from us in Marmaris, after the fiasco that was the Marmaris to Rhodes ferry connection. It's been the first "disaster" of our trip so far - about 40 quid wasted, plus what might have been an enjoyable ferry cruise to Haifi via Cyprus - but like the true heroes we are, we've converted disaster to unequivocal success. Well, perhaps. Still, we are going to appear on Israeli TV now. Yup, no joke.

More on that in a bit. First of all, our return to Istabul. Obviously, this return was a humiliating one, having to return to Melissa and "crew" (ie, anybody who happened to be residing at the hostel which was increasingly belonging to her after her extended residence) so on the hellish overnight bus journey back, myself Simon and Owen concocted a story of such brilliance that no-one there would ever suspect us of miserable ferry connection failure.

And our story would have stood, if our good natures had not relented.

It was a simple one. Owen was to simply act confused. When asked why we'd returned, he was to say he couldn't quite remember, but that the important thing was that he was back in Istanbul. Pressed further and he'd continue to be confused and say "Ask Niall". Simon was to act jittery when asked and insist that he really didn't want to say. He just didn't. If pressed he'd get very agitated and ask to simply drop the subject. And me, I was to be more laid back and to just repeat that we really couldn't tell what had happened but that it wasn't important and that the important thing was that we were all ok and back in Istanbul.

Incredibly, this pile of garbage actually worked to great success. Upon returning to the large dormitory room, to a variety of surprised people, we kept to our story and managed to stir up a great deal of concern. Helped greatly by Owen, when dealing with Melissa and Tim (from Canada - the new United States), and managing to pull off a great piece of acting that apparently had Tim's face contorted in such a degree of concern that he looked like he was going to cry. Me, Simon and Owen then went out to get our tickets and everyone else did the rest of the work, wondering what on earth had happened to us. Apparently the story going round was that we'd been drugged on the bus to Marmaris, and a number of the hostel residents began to fear for their own safety on Turkish buses.

We slept or rested or "recovered" in bed for much of the afternoon, thus helping our story along. The simple truth was that we were knackered after some child of Satan screamed and crapped the entire journey, not productive to a night's sleep. The crazy old man who woke me up to ask if he could sit next to me, then walked away, seems incidental.

The big event of the day was Melissa's 21st. She was out most of the day with "they guy" (ie, her Turk), but at 8.30pm we were to all gather and go out for a meal. After a few drinks in the hostel bar a group of us managed to gather for this, although closer to 9.30pm really. A very international group it was too. From memory there were the two Scots of course (myself, Simon), only two Australians (Melissa, Owen), a Belgishman (Eric), a Mexican (Claudia), a Turk ("the guy"), a Canadadaian (Tim), an Englishman (the 50ish Chris, who'd seen less bellied days and had a highly worrying propensity for wandering around in horrifically skimpy underpants) and an American (David). Plus two Turks who joined us later, but how am I expected to remember foriegn names?

We had our meal, eventually, after locating a place that could actually cope with this big group assaulting them at such a late hour (appraoching 11pm when we got there). Perhaps it was for this reason service was excruciatingly slow and the food, hmm, average. Obviously I've been too used to kebabs recently and anything that isn't carved directly from a mass chunk of revolving animal flesh seems less than satisfying these days.

The curious event of the night was our next choice of venue. Chosen by one of the Turks, it was a nightclub with a live band who were very proficient, if with appalling musical taste. Walking down the corridor it struck me immediately - I'd been here before. But in a much less sober state. The week before. With Bambi and Barbie, while so ferociously drunk I couldn't move or speak. Happy memories indeed.

Alas, I didn't get the chance to repeat this feat of drunkenness and myself, Simon and Owen had to leave early (well, about 1.30am), as we had our flight to Tel Aviv the next morning, and no way were we risking missing another voyage to the Holy Land.

And so this time we did make it. After numerous checks in Istanbul's airport, being questioned and metal detected (no deep cavity probing though), we took to the air and landed less than two hours later, with not a single bomb having gone off. And the much reputed heavy Israeli airport security proved very disappointing. I didn't have to strip at all.

It was as we waited for our bus into the centre of town that we happened to meet a girl so crazy that I still haven't begun to figure her out yet. Me and Simon have discussed this and she may be the craziest person we've met travelling yet. Well, this is aside from some of the more obvious lunatics you see, such as the guy in the mulitcoloured suit and fez, with glittery bits, and openly carrying a shotgun who got onto our Istanbul to Marmaris bus and barely got a glance from the other passengers (mind you, you should never stare too long at a crazy guy with a shotgun). No, this girl was crazy in a far more subtle, and rather charming, way. Pleasant - but a fruitloop.

She's called Shevonne and she's South African, but ethinically Indian. She's disappeared now, but if I do go and work on a kibbutz then it's very very likely I'll see her again.

She did start off pretty normal. Very softly spoken and gentle, and it was only the very fact she was in Israel at all that would have given suggestion of madness. That is, she'd never left South Africa before and Israel was the first foreign country she;d ever been to (yeah, a real obvious choice there) and she'd decided to go and work on a kibbutz for four months.

Anyhow, we were going to the same hostel so all got on the bus and arrived, as darkness fell, at "Gordon Hostel" - so called because it's on Gordon Street and not, disappointingly, run by several men all called Gordon. An Italian with the unlikely name of Donald also joined us, but he didn't really feature. I only mention him because I didn't think Italians were ever called Donald.

Following Shevonne's "instincts" we wandered aimlessly for a while, until we found a sort-of restaurant we could eat at. Shevonne went on a madwoman ramble about her not entirely accurate life history, which included being 16 years old with a 3 year old kid, engaged to a pilot called Sanjeesh and later on her theory (which she believed in utterly, and seemed surprised we didn't go along with it) that Germany and China were secretly plotting to take over the world. Right now she'd probably sitting back, smugly waiting for them to declare war so she can say "told you so".

You'd have had to have seen her to fully appreciate some of the craziness, although she was quite fun with it. The night drew to a close on the rooftop of the hostel, drinking pissy lager and her pretending to drink coke.

The next morning we were up early (too early for Simon, when Shevonne woke him up at 8.15am and he angrily told her to go away. The angriest I've ever seen Simon perhaps - never wake this man unnecessarily). Myself, Owen and the girl Shevonne all went to the kibbutz office together and Shevonne chose her desired kibbutz and basically forced poor Owen to join her there. For at least the next two months. I had the get out clause that I'm not intending to go until December, although in all fairness I'll likely join them there.

Things move fast in Israel - they've got to when you could be exploded at every possible second - and they only had two hours remaining in Tel Aviv before having to catch their bus and go to their future in their kibbutz. So with our short time left together we had a picnic on the quite impressive Tel Aviv beach, in the scorching sunshine (it's November and the weather just about eclipses the heights of an Aberdeen summer), before Owen and Shevonne managed to catch their bus.

Not before becoming famous in Israel however. The fame that we stumbled upon in Bulgaria has obviously followed us to Israel, and we're now appearing on Israeli TV. This Sunday or Wednesday I believe. A camera guy and some bird were around the hostel, filming stuff and conveniently, the four of us were about. Would we mind being filmed a little? Well, of course not, and so footage was taken of us acting "natural" in our room, then on the hostel rooftop, and then of the four of leaving the hostel (this bit was natural in fact, Owen and Shevonne had to catch their bus and the cameraman just chased after us). Finally, later on, me and Simon were captured enjoying a sunset together. Looking deep into each other's eyes... (or not)

That's about it then. Early tomorrow we aim to go to Haifa. As long as we're not too hungover as today is our 3 month travelling anniversary. In Haifa we're going to meet up with Zahi (hello Zahi, if you're reading this), who we met in Budapest all that time ago. We'll be there for a few days I expect. Then Jerusalem probably. Jerusalem and me in the same place? Man, we're talking major holiness.

Yeah, and the kibbutz stuff. I'm about 85% certain now. Basically, all I have to do is turn up in December and they'll find me somewhere, that somewhere probably being where Shevonne and Owen being if there are still vacancies. As it's the off-season and as casual tourists aren't flocking to Israel currently, I expect there'll be no problem. So I'm still going through with the full Frankfurt to Egypt plan, just going to Israel from Egypt, and not Scotland. But the decision partly rests on being able to delay my flight home, and also on how I feel in a few weeks time. But right now it's odds on the kibbutz.

Monday, November 12, 2001

Simon wrote:

... and get to enjoy the delights of the security at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport. Apparently rectal examinations are quite frequent there...

Christ, I haven't wiped since Croatia. Shalom Israel.
Here's a little mind-teaser for you. It is Monday at noon, in the off-season. You are in Marmaris and you have booked a ferry ticket from Rhodes to Haifi, which departs 5pm on Tuesday. You speak to five Turkish men:

The first Turkish man says boats leave from Marmaris to Rhodes at 9am Tuesday.
The second Turkish man says the first Turkish man is wrong, and that boats leave from Kos to Rhodes at 5am Tuesday, and from Bodrum (near Marmaris) to Kos at 3.30pm on Monday.
The third Turkish man says the first and second Turkish men are wrong, and that boats leave from Marmaris to Rhodes at 9am Tuesday, but that it isn't guaranteed and depends on the weather and number of passangers.
The fourth Turkish man says that boats leave from Marmaris to Rhodes on Monday at 3pm and cost just 22 million Turkish lira (about 9 pounds) if you pay him now. However, he is manning a food stall outside the travel agents.
The fifth Turkish man says that boats leave from Marmaris to Rhodes 9am Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The first Turkish man then changes his mind and says that it's 90% that boats leave from Marmaris to Rhodes at 9am Tuesday. You ask him ten more times and he then says no boats leave on Tuesday, just Wednesday.

Question: What do you do?

Answer: Ignore all Turkish men and go with your tail between your legs back to Istanbul for a flight to Tel-Aviv.

Yeah, so we're still in Marmaris, but not for much longer. Due to entirely unreliable ferry runs from Marmaris to Rhodes (only a 2 hour trip) and in fact anywhere in Turkey to the very nearby Greek islands, and the even more unreliable and changeable information, we've had to call it quits. Every option was gone through, but short of swimming 50km with our backpacks or hijacking a boat, there's no way whatsoever we could get to Rhodes before 5pm Tuesday. Not even hitching a ride with a fisherman as it's international water. So instead, we've had to get a flight from Istanbul to Tel-Aviv, on Wednesday. Cancelling our Rhodes ferry ticket (losing us 50%, or about 40 quid), but the flight's pretty cheap, thank God. We've had more than our fair share of good luck in the last three months, so in the end were probably due a little bad luck.

One small bonus is that, despite the humiliation of having to crawl back to Istanbul, we will make Melissa's 21st tomorrow. Hopefully she won't read this before that so we can make up some story of why we've returned. At the moment we're going to pretend we met some Glaswegians at the bus station, got drunk, missed our bus and went with them to Izmir for a day or so, before returning to Istanbul for our flight. That sounds believable enough, although we did have some slightly more outlandish stories. Returning to get Simon's custom-built toothbrush for example.

Back to Istanbul later on then. Oh well. I'm not massively looking forward to it. I have top admit I found the entire Istanbul experience a little shallow. The hostels were a big part of that - huge complexes that had everything you needed so you didn't ever have to leave them. Bars, cafes, restaurants - even a damn travel agency that kept trying to push packagae tours at you. And for all the friendliness of the Turkish, there was always a catch. Whether it be "Eat at my restaurant", "Visit my shop", "But my carpets", even "Give me your address so I can use you to get myself a visa to enter your home country" (I'm serious, though it wasn't me this was directed to specifically). I'm making a big generalisation of course, but of the many Turks who approached you, it's a generalisation that does stand on the most part.

I also felt far more cynical after Istanbul. The (mainly Australian) backpackers were all herded into these giant hostels so I'd be finding myself speaking to new people every half hour it seemed. And it's the first time I've stopped wanting to meet people. It just got too much. I feel so cynical saying I couldn't be bothered making the effort, but it's true. I got fatigued from having to ask where people were from, where they'd been, where they were going to.

I'd still recommend Istanbul as it's got fabulous sights and it's a fascinating place, but I can't say I'm in a hurry to return. I think it's just too geared for backpackers, to the degree that you no longer have the independence that's half the reason you're backpacking in the first place.

As for Marmaris, well. It's alright. By the sea and a very attractive view, being in a bay surrounded by mountains. But it's apparently a big resort for Brits, and it's off-season, so has very much the feel of being a bit of a ghost town. Like Budva in Montenegro, if not quite that extreme. It's pleasant, but feels lacklustre. Even the waiter of a restaurant we ate at seemed confused as to why we were visiting in November. Great weather mind you.

So that's the deal then. Overnight (again) to Istanbul, Melissa's birthday, then a plane Wednesday morning to Tel-Aviv.

I also saw a bus from here to a city called Batman in the east of Turkey. I was tempted...